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Volcanic Skiing: A Photo 5 Years In The Making

Photographer Fredrik Schenholm: Volcanic Skiing: A Photo 5 Years In The MakingSkier: Oscar Hübinette Location: Volcano Tolbachik, Kamchatka, Russia
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Photographer Fredrik Schenholm withstood bitter cold, waited for years, and traveled the world to make this image.

Volcano ski photo
Skier: Oscar Hübinette Location: Volcano Tolbachik, Kamchatka, Russia

Adventure Photographer Fredrik Schenholm got into photography the “old fashioned” way. He worked for his father at a one-hour photo shop in Gothenburg, Sweden, at the age of 12. At 16, Poppa Schenholm gave his son an SLR camera and Fredrik’s life in photography began.

At 20, he moved to St. Anton in Austria’s Tyrolean Alps to live the ski bum life. Three years filled with washing dishes at night and shooting his friends skiing during the day led him to Chamonix, France. By 2005, Schenholm was back in Sweden and making a living off his images of skiers and climbers, traveling 170-days per year for work.

In 2006, Schenholm’s remarkable journey and artistic vision led to one of skiing’s most stunning images. And it took nearly 5 more years to get one chance at one click of his camera.

How did you get the idea for the photo?

In 2006, I joined my friends Tormod Granheim and Tomas Olsson on a Mount Everest trip. Their goal was to ski the unskied Norton Couloir on the north face of the mountain. Things went wrong and an anchor broke at the 8,500-meter point during the descent. Tomas Olsson fell to his death.

I went back to Sweden and started studies in geology. During my studies, I learned there are three ways of measuring a mountain, from sea level to summit, from the core of the earth to the summit, and from the base of the mountain to the summit.

Tormod Granheim managed to ski the north face of Everest in 2006, so I asked if he wanted to ski the remaining two highest mountains on Earth. He was in. In December 2008, we went to Ecuador with the goal to ski the Chimborazo Volcano, the highest mountain measured from the core of the Earth.

To acclimatize for Chimborazo, we climbed the active volcano Cotopaxi. After an amazing ascent below a cloud-free sky blanketed with millions of stars, we reached the summit by early morning. The neighboring volcano erupted a large ash cloud. Right there and then I decided I wanted to capture an image combining skiing with a volcanic eruption. One might think I could have done it on Cotopaxi, but soon after we saw the eruption, we were covered in clouds.

Skiing a volcano
Skier: Oscar Hübinette
Location: Volcano Tolbachik, Kamchatka, Russia

What happened after you got the idea?

I couldn’t let go of it. During the next 4 and a half years, I traveled to volcanoes around the world trying to capture the image, Iceland, Italy, Iran, New Zealand, and Norway just to name a few. While in Sweden, I followed all potential volcanoes on the Internet through webcams, tremor charts, and forums.

I soon realized it would be incredibly hard to find the right location. There are a lot of factors to take into account. I needed snow and most of the world’s volcanoes didn’t work. Also, a big problem was that it is impossible to know the duration of the eruption. It might last 2 minutes, 2 hours, 2 days, or 20 years. And on location, there are some other things to think about. The geomorphology must be beneficial. I didn’t want us, the skier and myself, to be in danger. The wind direction must be right, not blowing the ash towards us…so, just a few things to think about.

Describe capturing the shot.

We finally got the chance to take the shot in Kamchatka, Russia. The Tolbachik Volcano started to erupt in November of 2012 and Oscar Hübinette and I went there in March of 2013. It is a very remote volcano, a 9-hour bus ride from Petropavlovsk and then a 50-minute helicopter flight. We set up base camp just 600 meters from the erupting cone.

We had snow, we had an erupting volcano, and we had limited ash in the air. It was time to capture the shot. But it was hard finding a good location. Eventually, we did. Although we realized we would only have one chance for the photo. There is an unwritten rule in ski photography, no old tracks in the image. And due to the geomorphology and tiny strip of snow, we would only get one opportunity.

We waited until afternoon. With less daylight, the red glowing lava would really stand out. It was time. I set up the flash on a monopod about 5-meters above me and placed the transmitter on my Canon EOS 5D MarkIII with the 16-35 mm lens attached to it. I paused to enjoy the erupting volcano and carefully decided on the composition.

Then, I threw a snowball so I could set the focus and so Oscar would know where to make his turn and took a test shot to check the exposure. Oscar was waiting above me. I used 1/6s as shutter time, making it possible to hand hold the camera. I was ready and I shouted “GOOOOO!” to Oscar. He came into my viewfinder and I pressed the button. Now, it was a truly exciting time. I knew if I did my part right it would turn out to be a good photo. Oscar almost never misses when we do ski photography. It was up to me…

And the photo?!

I pressed play on the camera and looked at the shot and screamed to Oscar, “WE GOT IT!” I couldn’t stop staring at it, and zoomed in to see if it was sharp. It was. I analyzed the composition. I was very pleased. In front of me was the result of nearly 5 years of hunting. That night we had whiskey in the tent while it was negative 20 degrees outside. We drank and celebrated while staring at the image. It was an amazing feeling and sense of accomplishment.

What is next?

I love when nature has its saying in my images. Whether it is an erupting volcano or the northern lights or a storm, it has to be some sort of natural power in the image for me to really, really like it. So why not go climbing during a thunderstorm? Wouldn’t that be a cool image, a climber with a sky full of flashes in the horizon…

Why did you choose this adventurous life and profession?

I think the easy answer to this rather complex questions is because it is possible. Earth is so beautiful, and to explore unknown places is just so damn exciting. Adventure offers two very important features: perspectives and experiences. I think it gives people a richer life; at least it does to me. It is just a matter of getting out there and how you choose to execute it.

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